struggle for public respect goes on. As soon as the Entertainment
Software Association knocks down one clown-made unconstitutional
ordinance designed to censor video games, another one pops up somewhere
else. It’s Whack-A-Mole with lawsuits.
Video games are an easy
target because, unlike the movies, games have no powerful friends and
no beautiful film stars to argue for them. But there are many other
reasons for our lack of cultural credibility as well. Some of them
aren’t our fault, but a surprising number are, and recently I’ve
thought of another one: We don’t have any highbrow games.
every other entertainment medium has an élite form. Books have serious
literature, the kind that wins Pulitzer and Nobel prizes. Music has
classical music—not just popular favorites like Beethoven and Mozart,
but other forms that are less familiar and less easy to love:
twelve-tone music and grand opera. Dance? Ballet, obviously. TV, the
most relentlessly proletarian medium of them all, still manages to
devote a handful of channels to science, history, and the arts.
(Science, history, and the arts aren’t really highbrow, but programming
executives certainly think they are.)
Movies have Merchant Ivory, a small and very unusual production
company. For over 40 years, Ismail Merchant (now deceased, alas), James
Ivory, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala made a string of incredibly beautiful
and well-acted movies on subjects that would never be big hits at the
shopping mall cineplex. These weren’t “art films,” short low-budget
titles filled with impenetrable weirdness; they were rich, thoughtful
works that addressed serious issues.
Big Hollywood stars lined
up to appear in Merchant Ivory films even though the stars didn’t stand
a hope in hell of making the kind of money they were used to, because
it was worth it just for the prestige value alone. The same is true of
Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare films. Take a look at the his Hamlet; the
credits read like a Who’s Who of Tinseltown. Half the cast could easily
get a leading role in a moneymaker, yet they signed up for bit parts in
Hamlet just for the chance to say they did it.